Monday, June 9, 2008

Mosaics in Cyprus

Several years ago I visited Cyprus, the small island nation in the Mediterranean Sea. There are many, many things to enjoy on this sunny Greek-flavored island. One of my favorite parts was touring the archeological sites in the cliffs. The floors are covered with intricate mosaics that made me want to start quilting immediately.

I haven’t made a Cyprus quilt yet, but the inspiration is there, and someday something will come from it.

My husband told me that I’d be good at making an entire mosaic floor… something about repetitive detail work. Yup, he knows me well. That might have been a good job for me 2,000 years ago if I lived on Cyprus.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Paper Quilt

During the first week of school, my third graders worked on this paper quilt. Each block is a grid with 100 squares (10x10). I used blank 100 charts that were in the math textbook we use, but it would be simple enough to create a grid that would work well. Each student made a block by writing their name over and over again in the squares and then coloring each letter a different color. For example, “Jane” might choose red for J, yellow for A, orange for N, and black for E. The pattern is repeated until the 100 squares are filled up.

Students with 5 or 10 letter names just colored stripes, where students with 7 letter names had to be a bit more careful. Overall the project was fun and not too demanding for my uncertain brand new third graders. They were very excited when I unveiled the complete project!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Crazy Hair Day

I went all out for Crazy Hair Day this year. I put my hair into dozens of mini buns all over my head, and my husband helped me poke tiny cardboard airplanes on wire into each bun.

I looked like a busy airport. My students were mesmerized. They just kept staring at my head and talking about the airplanes. Thankfully crazy hair day is during the last week of school!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Too Much Help

Now that testing is over, a lot of the students and some of the staff have a definite feeling that this part of the year doesn't count any more. Some of my students have totally checked out, and spelling test scores have gone way down. Behavior has generally gotten worse, too.

At the same time, the administration suddenly has a lot more time on their hands, so I've got lots more people in my room trying to help me and coach me. It's pretty overwhelming, and hard not to take personally. It's across the board with all the new teachers, though, not just me, so I don't really think I suddenly stand out as needing lots of help with math, literacy, and ELD. I think they just suddenly have extra time.

So I have decided to go talk to the principal about it. I want to improve, I just can't work on so many things at once!

Update: I talked to the principal. She was totally understanding. I cried when I explained how I was feeling (arrgh). But she's already talked to the coaches and lightened my load. Another part of the problem was that the coaches were observing and leaving a note on my desk, but never meeting with me to discuss issues. So that's improving, too. I'm lucky to have such a responsive principal. Even if she did have to let me out the back door of her office so I didn't have to walk past the office full of people.

Standardized Testing Advice

As a first year teacher, I wasn't quite sure what to expect during state standardized testing. In my state, third graders take the test over four days. The first day is the writing prompt, and then the following days are each an hour and a half of reading, then an hour and a half of math.

The pressure during the test was huge, on the teachers and on the students. I had one girl start crying when I passed out the tests, just from pure anxiety. I knew she was going to, because she'd been getting easily upset and crying whenever something wasn't super easy. She has a high pressure family- her mom asked me for her class rank during a conference. Thankfully she and I had been discussing relaxation techniques and stuff like that, so after I had her to go to the bathroom and get a drink (I told her to walk slowly, and breathe deliberately, and listen for bird sounds), she came back and started doing the test.

I spent $20 on fruit and snacks for the week, and each morning I gave my students a small snack, like 5 apple slices and a few grapes, or some sliced up oranges. My students also love Mangoes and I found some of those on sale too. The school provided me with snacks, but it was all packaged stuff like granola bars and fruit snacks. I gave them those snacks in between morning testing sessions, so the schedule went like this: at school at 8am, eat fruit, start testing at 8:30, break at 10:15 for packaged snack, test until 12, when it's lunch time. In the afternoon we worked on coloring the pictures for the books we've been writing for a few weeks. Nothing academic, but nothing too crazy either. I was also very liberal with prizes during the week. I passed out mint mentos and chewing gum, because everybody on staff is convinced that the kids do better with mint. I told my students (privately, in whispers during the test), that the mint flavor would wake up their brain. I only gave stuff to kids who were still working or checking answers, never to the early finishers. Sometimes I could get them to go reread questions and check answers by bribing them with a single mint mento. I also put tiny stickers on an index card on the corner of the desk when I saw a student working really hard. That meant if a student just skimmed over the questions, they wouldn't get very many stickers. The people who took the longest always got the most stickers. Then in the afternoon I allowed the students to buy prizes with the stickers, like an eraser for 10 stickers or a bottle of bubbles for 20 stickers.

Our testing took 4 days. On Friday I had good intentions, but I was sick and feeling crappy. I showed two movies, did a bunch of read alouds, and gave my kids popcorn, and while they watched the movies I flipped through the test booklets and checked for bubble neatness. At our school we had to check out the box of tests from the principal each morning and return them during lunch, but thankfully they let us check them out again on Friday to go over the neatness of the forms. The only problem with that is that I found a few students who had skipped problems or in one case two pages, and there was nothing I could do about it because testing was over. Next year I'm going to flip through their books as they finish to make sure they did every problem.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

What is This Bird?

We have an orange tree in our yard. The oranges were ripe over the winter, and now the remains of the season are falling off the tree.
I have been noticing that quite a few of the fallen oranges have holes like this one: The hole is perfectly round and quite deep. The pulp inside the hole is gone. I have seen a few Orioles struggling with my hummingbird feeder, so I assumed it must be Orioles eating the oranges. I even put up a specially designed Oriole feeder, but I haven’t seen any Orioles visit it yet.

Then, the other day, I noticed a bird high in the tree, busily eating an orange that is still on the tree. I took some pictures and realized that it’s certainly not an Oriole. The problem is I can’t figure out what it is, even with the help of some books about regional birds from the library. The identity of the visitor will stay a mystery.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


This is the second Pern book on the list provided by the library. I read this book while traveling in Thailand. The story was addictive, and I ended up staying awake very late the night before we left to finish the book.

The story takes place 7 years after Dragonflight. The oldtimers, the riders and dragons who came into the present to help protect Pern after the thread began to fall again, are causing problems. They are demanding and greedy, and the people who live in the areas protected by oldtimers are growing resentful.

I was interested in how the groups changed from the first book to the second book. The oldtimers are brought to save Pern in the first book, and now they are causing problems for Pern by their old ways of thinking and acting. One of the things I like about the Pern series is how characters change over time. They grow more mature, or serious, or problematic, or generous. The stories are plot driven, but at the same time character driven. This makes the fantasy and sci-fi aspects softer and more human.

I also loved this book because of the introduction of the fire lizards. They are miniature dragons, basically, only more playful and not as smart. One of the dragonriders happens to impress a fire lizard on the beach, which spurs a newfound interest in the small creatures, as pets and message carriers. I especially enjoyed the scenes where non-dragonriders impress the fire lizards as pets and gain a new understanding of the emotional bond between dragon and rider.